Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
A Growing Love
At the end of a project, everyone likes to hear ?good job!? It works the same for Christians, but the project God has started in us won?t be finished until we stand before Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. So how can we know we?re going in the right direction? Paul gives his Philippian friends an idea in the final verses of the first section of Chapter 1.
He?s told them that they?ve been on his mind as he rejoices in their partnership with him in furthering the gospel. And they?ve been on his heart as he rejoiced in their gift to him as he awaited trial under Roman guard. Now he tells them that they are in his prayers. What would you like the Apostle Paul to pray for you? I think the prayer he sends up to the Father on behalf of the people of Philippi should be a prayer we prayer for one another?as a way of leading us to hear ?well done, good and faithful servant? (Matthew 25:23) when we see Jesus face to face.
His prayer consists of two requests: for a growing love and a mature character in Christ.
Notice the focus here: love. This is the Greek agape, which means ?self-sacrificing, other-centered affection.? One of the problems we?ll find that Paul is dealing with in Philippi is that some of the people forgot what real love is. Real love is like God who ?gave His only begotten Son? (John 3:16), and Jesus who ?emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave? (Philippians 2:7), and the Spirit who ?will not speak on His own? (John 16:13). It is a character filled with giving to help others even if it means you get hurt in the process. It is life filled with humility and one that typifies that interconnectedness in the idea of ?fellowship?.
The focus of our energy as Christians should be to love like God. This runs counter to the way we normally think. Pride rules the human soul, but pride is not ?I have pride in my work??pride is: ?my work is better than yours and that makes me better and more important than you.? This typifies the character of Lucifer who said: ?I will ascend above the highest clouds. I will be like the Most High? (Isaiah 14:14).
Paul isn?t chiding the Philippians, telling them they don?t have love at all. He says: ?that your love will keep on growing.? Remember in verse 6 how he says: that ?He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.? When the Holy Spirit comes into us, He introduces the love seed. From there it is a process of shedding our normal, selfish ways, and introducing a selfless affection towards others?even others who don?t reciprocate. The love was there, Paul just wants it reawakened and some fertilizer applied.
How is it going with your self-sacrificing, other-centered affection? Do you thrive only on measuring yourself against those around you, or finding ways that you can help others?
Paul goes on to characterize how that love is to grow: ?in knowledge and every kind of discernment.? You?ve heard it said that love is blind. That?s not true. In fact, true love has wide-open eyes and ears. ?Knowledge? means: ?precise and correct knowledge of the character of God and how He would act? (Thayer, 1922). We need to know God?s character so we can then look out at the world around us to ?discern? whether something is like God or not. I will say this: many things Christians say are of God, are really not. And many things they say are not of God, actually are. Don?t let your human mind, your friends, or your culture tell you what God is like. Look at His Word, study it; and understand the context and proper application and explanation (exegeses).
I?ll give you an example of each: there are denominations that claim God prohibits dancing. Now, there may have been good reasons for that at one time, if dancing was seen as leading to undo sensuality and temptation to sin by having a physical relationship outside of marriage. But they turn it into a law. It?s not.
On the other side, there are many Christians today who say that abortion is not prohibited by God. They don?t understand that the Scriptures teach that life begins in the womb and that killing a child in the womb is murder (Psalm 139, Galatians 1:15, Exodus 21:21-23) .
The word ?discernment? is an unusual one but means essentially: ?perception.? So the Philippians knew the character of God, then Paul wants them to be able to perceive whether their actions or those of people around them are following that character.
Jesus said: ?Look, I?m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves? (Matt. 10:16). Snakes discern their surroundings not by sight but by heat signatures?something invisible to us. So too, we know God?s character, then rely on the Holy Spirit to give us discernment about that character in any situation. The idea isn?t to look down on or judge others, but so that we can remain ?innocent as doves? which means: ?unmixed.? That idea reappears in a moment.
Paul goes on in the next verse to describe what this knowledge and discernment will do for them:
Essentially this verse could be translated: ?so that you can test for yourselves the godly way of doing things and in the process become more like Him and won?t have anything to be ashamed of when Jesus comes back.? The Message paraphrase says: ?live a life that Jesus would be proud of.?
The idea of being ?pure? is interesting ? it can have two meanings: to be found pure when examined in the sun?s light, and made pure by sifting. We should not be afraid to have live our lives in the light, or to be examined. We know we aren?t perfect and it?s Jesus that makes us that way?His life, His righteousness. Sometimes the light reveals imperfections in our character. God then allows us to go through difficulties to ?sift? the bad out as we rely more on Him and less on ourselves. Our goal then is to reflect that character of God as much as we can. Blameless means: ?not leading anyone else to stumble based on your lifestyle?.
We want this so that when Jesus comes back and we have our exit interview, we can know that we have really worked at letting Jesus bring out his character in our lives and that we didn?t cause anyone else to turn their back on Jesus by things that we have done or said.
Finally, Paul says that we should be ?filled with the fruit of righteousness.?
Fruitfulness is what each Christian should strive for. But being fruitful isn?t the same thing as being active. Sometimes we think that if we produce a lot of stuff then we are producing fruit?whether it?s converts or Bible studies or numbers in chairs or how many verses we?ve read or church services we?ve attended. Fruit isn?t like that, so what is it? Fruit isn?t what you do, it is how you are.
Galatians. 5:22 ?But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.? The reason there is no law is that these things reflect the character traits of God, who is pure.
So being fruitful means reflecting God?s character. Paul suggests that the work of spreading the gospel is bearing fruit (Romans 1:13). And the writer of Hebrews (13:15) tells us ?Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.? So a life focused on bringing praise to God both in our behavior and our words is bearing fruit.
It?s important to note that fruit bearing is something that happens naturally to a person connected to Christ as a member of His body.
John 15:5 ?I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. ?
You bear fruit by staying connected to the vine, not by pushing the fruit out. It happens naturally.
So Paul is telling the Philippians to reflect the character of Jesus so that God will be praised and His kingdom furthered. That?s important when you consider the two main reasons Paul wrote this letter: something external was stopping them from sharing the gospel, and something internally was leading folks to act in selfish ways that promoted themselves over others, which is the opposite of what agape love is all about.
When we face hard times, we have a choice. We can react in the ways of this age and the default human behavior of ?me first?, or we can adopt God?s self-sacrificing, other-centered affection. And when we encounter opposition to the gospel we can allow ourselves to just blend in with the culture around us, or can have good perception about what is like God and what is not, and focus on letting God work His character out of us.
Next time, Paul outlines a little bit more what was going on in Philippi, and how the Apostle wants them to react.